Hadia Dajani-Shakeel. "Some Medieval Accounts of Salah al-Din's Recovery of
in Hisham Nashabe (ed) Studia Palaestina: Studies in honour
of Constantine K. Zurayk, Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut 1988.
" If God blesses us by enabling us to drive His enemies out of Jerusalem, how fortunate
and happy we would be! For Jerusalem has been controlled by the enemy for ninety-one
years, during which time God has received nothing from us here in the way of adoration.
At the same time, the zeal of the Muslim rulers to deliver it languished. Time passed, and
so did many [in different] generations, while the Franks succeeded in rooting themselves
strongly there. Now God has reserved the merit of its recovery for one house, the house
of the sons of Ayyub, in order to unite all hearts in appreciation of its members." Salah
This statement not only sums up Salah al-Din's attitude towards Jerusalem but also
embodies what the Arabs and the Muslims of the area keenly felt. That the liberation of
Jerusalem had always been the ultimate goal of Salah al-Din (d. A.H. 589/A.D. 1193), as
it had been that of his predecessor Nur al-Din Zangi (d. A.H. 569/A.D. 1174), is a historical
fact for which evidence is abundant. Interruptions in Salah al-Din's progress towards
achieving this goal may have led some historians to minimize his quest for the recovery
of the city, but, in our judgment, this is a misreading of history.
The accounts of the actual capture of Jerusalem are varied with respect to the perspective
from which they were written and the details they give. However, despite some
discrepancies, they cohere and complement one another. Our concern in this article will
be mainly with the different aspects of Salah al-Din's recovery of Jerusalem: the military,
the demographic, and the ideological. We will thus focus on the following topics:
The Arabic accounts give us general information about Salah al- Din's attack on
Jerusalem, but they fail to identify the exact locations of some of his battles and other
important information about the Latins in the city, as well as about Salah al-Din's contacts
with the Arab-Christian community in Jerusalem. In order to complete this picture we will
utilize the chronicle of Ernoul (Chroniquc d'Er- noul). Ernoul (d. A.D. 1230) was the squire
of Balian of Ibelin, the Latin leader who negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem to Salah al-
Din. He was an eyewitness to the battle of Jerusalem and provides insight into what was
happening within the walled city,.
- I. Jerusalem Between July and September 1187
- II. Salah al-Din's Attack
- III. The Surrender of Jerusalem
- IV. The Latin Exodus
- V. The Fate of the Native Christians
- VI. The Muslim Response to the Liberation of Jerusalem.
There is some measure of coherence among the Arabic accounts as well as between the
Arabic accounts and Ernoul's account. The consistency of these accounts itself supports
their claim to authenticity. In addition to the medieval accounts, we will also use, wherever
possible, modern sources that have utilized accounts in Latin.
Jerusalem Between July and September 1187
Salah al-Din's decisive victory at Hittin on Saturday, 24 Rabi' al- Thani, A.H. 583/4 July,
A.D. 1187 opened the way for him to reconquer the rest of Palestine. Thus, within a period
of two months, from July to September, he recovered all the inland cities and fortresses
except Jerusalem, al-Karak, and al-Shawbak in Transjordan, as well as some fortresses
in the north, like Kawkab (Belvoir) and Safad. He also recovered all major ports between
'Asqalan and Jubayl except Tyre.2 In so doing, he cleared the land route between Egypt
and Palestine for the movement of his troops and established his fleet in the
Mediterranean between Alexandria and Acre. His fleet went into action immediately
(Jumada al-Thani, A.H. 583/September, A.D. 1187) and blocked the movement of
European ships in the area under its control.
Jerusalem, the capital of the Latin kingdom, had suffered a great loss of manpower as a
result of Hittin. Among those captured or killed were the king, Gui of Lusignan; his
counsellors; his brother Amaury, the constable of the kingdom; the grand masters of the
Templars and the Hospitallers, and a large number of the knights of these two military
orders. The only surviving leaders, who fled the battle to safety through Muslim lines, were
Raymond of Tripoli, Reynold of Sidon, and Balian of Ibelin (referred to in Arabic sources
as Balian Ibn Barzan). These men had enjoyed friendly relations with Salah al-Din and
were suspected by the Latins of complicity with him. Of the three, the most important for
our discussion is Balian.
While Salah al-Din mopped up Crusader strongholds in Palestine after the battle of Hittin,
Jerusalem was placed under a temporary government, with Queen Sybil, wife of Gui of
Lusignan, as the ruler along with Heraclius, the controversial and unpopular patriarch. The
city faced many problems. In addition to the loss of most of its male population, it suffered
from a shortage of food because the battle of Hittin had occurred at harvest time and,
accordingly, the crops were lost.
The shortage of food and supplies became more acute as refugees poured into
Jerusalem from most of the areas surrounding it. Some of these refugees must have gone
to Jerusalem seeking shelter within its walls, while others presumably went to defend the
city, just as native Palestinians had done ninety years earlier. The city, which could
accommodate a population of about 30,000, became the residence of about 60,000
persons, according to estimates of Arab chroniclers. As Runciman indicates, there were
fifty women and children for every man. Refugees so crowded the streets, the churches,
and the houses that the walled city could hardly accommodate them. According to Ibn
al-Athir's somewhat exaggerated description, when Salah al-Din's forces approached the
city, "they saw on the wall a terrifying crowd of men and heard an uproar of voices coming
from the people inside the wall, which led them to infer that a large population was
Faced with all these problems, Jerusalem could not have resisted an attack by Salah
al-Din for very long. Realizing this, its authorities tried to establish contact with Salah
al-Din to discuss the future of the city. We have two different accounts of their efforts.
The first, by Abu Shamah, who quotes al-Qadisi, indicates that Salah al-Din had said in
a letter to a relative that the sovereign of Jerusalem (Malik al-Quds) had contacted him
during his attack on Tyre (Jumada al-Thani, A.H. 583/August, A.D. 1187) to ask for safe
conduct (aman), and that Salah al-Din had responded, "I will come to you in Jerusalem."
According to al-Qadisi, the astrologers informed Salah al-Din that the stars indicated he
would enter Jerusalem but that he would lose one eye. To this Salah al-Din responded,
"I would not mind losing my sight if I took the city." Only the siege of Tyre prevented him
from going to Jerusalem.
The second account is by Emoul, the Latin chronicler who was in Jerusalem during Salah
al-Din's invasion of the Latin kingdom, and it provides details that do not appear in the
Arabic sources. Ernoul indicates that a delegation of citizens from Jerusalem went to see
Salah al-Din on the day he took 'Asqalan (Jumada al-Thani, A.H. 583/September, A.D.
1187) to ask for a peaceful solution for Jerusalem. On the day of the meeting there was
an eclipse of the sun, which the Latin delegates considered to be a bad omen. Never-
theless, Salah al-Din offered them generous terms for the city: They were to be allowed
to remain in the city temporarily, they were to retain the land within a radius of five leagues
around it, and they were to receive the supplies they needed from Salah al-Din. The
settlement was to remain valid until Pentecost. If the citizens of Jerusalem could obtain
external help, they would remain rulers of the city; if not, they were to surrender it and
remove themselves to Christian lands.
According to Ernoul, the delegation rejected this offer, saying they would never give up
the city in which "the Lord died for them." Salah al-Din then vowed to take Jerusalem by
force and started his march against the city.
It seems most probable that there was more than one contact between Salah al-Din and
the authorities in Jerusalem, the first being in Tyre. 'Imad al-Din informs us that while at
Tyre Salah al-Din summoned King Gui and the grand master of the Templars and
promised both of them freedom if they helped him secure the surrender of other cities.
These two did in fact later help him to secure the surrender of 'Asqalan and Gaza. Salah
al-Din may at the same time also have contacted Balian of Ibelin, who was already in Tyre,
and asked him to secure the surrender of Jerusalem. Ernoul mentions that while Salah
al-Din was in Tyre, Balian sought his permission to go to Jerusalem in order to rescue his
wife, Maria Comnena, as well as other members of his family and their possessions. Salah
al-Din granted him permission to go to Jerusalem on the condition that he not bear
weapons against him and that he spend only one night there.
In so doing, Salah al-Din must have hoped to use Balian as his chief negotiator for the
surrender of Jerusalem. Balian ultimately did negotiate the surrender of the city, but only
after he had broken his agreement with Salah al-Din and played a dramatic role in its
After arriving in Jerusalem, Balian was pressed by the patriarch to remain there and to
mobilize the population for its defence. At first Balian resisted, insisting that he would
adhere 10 his commitment to Salah al-Din. But at the insistence ol the patriarch, who
absolved him of his oath, Balian finally consented to accept the leadership of the city. His
rank among the Latins was, according to Ibn al-Athir, analogous to that of a king.
Balian began immediately to consolidate the Latin forces and plan the defence of the city.
According to Latin sources, he found only two knights in the city who had survived Hittin.
Thus, to make up for the shortage of male fighters, he knighted fifty sons of the nobility.
According to Runciman, he knighted every boy of noble origin who was over sixteen years
of age; he also knighted sixty burgesses. Since money was scarce, Balian, with the
blessing of the Patriarch Heraclius, stripped the silver from the roof of the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre and used it, along with some church funds and money that King Henry II
of England had sent to the Hospitallers, to produce a currency. He then distributed arms
to every able-bodied man in the city.
As the undisputed ruler of Jerusalem, Balian is most likely to have contacted Salah al-Din
once again regarding Jerusalem at 'Asqa- lan. According to Latin sources, Balian wrote
him at 'Asqalan to apologize for having broken his agreement and to ask his forgiveness,
which Salah al-Din gave.2
No one knows the nature of the secret correspondence between the two leaders, but the
terms that Ernoul alleges Salah al-Din to have proposed, regarding the fate of Jerusalem,
seem doubtful. Salah al-Din was by then well aware that Jerusalem would not be able to
hold out against him for long, especially since he had isolated it almost completely. Nor
would he have allowed a situation to develop in Jerusalem such as that in Tyre, which had
become the centre of resistance against his forces. Furthermore, even before the capture
of 'Asqalan, Salah al-Din had written to the caliph and to other relatives announcing his
intention to capture the city. In one letter he stated, "The march to Jerusalem will not be
delayed, for this is precisely the right time to liberate it."
Ernoul's account need not be taken as a contradiction of other accounts. Moreover,
although it raises many questions, one cannot discount it. Hence, it seems quite likely that
a Latin delegation went to 'Asqalan proposing the kind of terms that Ernoul attributed to
Salah al-Din, that Salah al-Din rejected them, and that the authorities in Jerusalem began
their preparations for the defence of the city.
Salah al-Din's Attack
After capturing 'Asqalan on 16 Jumada al-Thani, A.H. 583!5 September, A.D. 1187 and
arranging for its administration and settlement, Salah al-Din summoned all his forces,
which were then dispersed along the coast between 'Asqalan and Jubayl. They joined him,
according to Ibn Shaddad, "after having fulfiled their desires in pillaging and raiding," and
he then marched on Jerusalem, "entrusting his affairs to God and anxious to profit by the
opportunity of finding the door of righteousness opened." Salah al-Din marched in a great
procession accompanied by his knights, sons, brothers, mamlukes, commanders, and
friends in "squadrons ranked according to their merit, in platoons drawn up in solemn
cavalcades . . . with yellow flags that signalled disaster to the Banu al-Asfar."
As they were approaching Jerusalem, however, the vanguard of the army, unaware of the
presence of Latin scouts, was ambushed near al-Qubeiba and sustained heavy losses. Ibn
al-Athir, who mentions this incident without indicating its location, notes that one of Salah
al-Din's commanders, an amir, was killed along with some of his men. This incident grieved
Upon reaching Jerusalem Salah al-Din enquired about the location of al-Aqsa mosque
and the shortest route to it, "which is also the shortest route to Heaven." As 'Imad al-Din
reports, he swore to bring back to the sacred shrines their old grandeur and vowed not to
leave Jerusalem until he had recovered the Dome of the Rock, "from which the Prophet
had set foot," raised his flag on its highest point, and visited it personally.
According to Arabic sources, Salah al-Din arrived from 'Asqalan at the western side of
the city on Sunday, 15 Rajab, A.H. 583/21 September, A.D. 1187, although, according to
Ernoul, he arrived on Thursday evening, 12 Rajab, A.H. 583/18 September, A.D. 1187.
The next day, Ernoul says, Salah al-Din ranged his forces opposite the western wall of
Jerusalem, where he subsequently started his attack. Arabic chroniclers do not tell us the
exact location of Salah al-Din's forces in the first few days of combat, but Ernoul states that
they were stationed opposite the western wall between David's Gate (Bab al-Khalil) and
St. Stephen's Gate (Bab al-'Amud). More specifically, they were facing the hospital for
leper women behind David's Gate and that for leper men near St. Stephen's Gate.
The western side of the city was well fortified because of its geographical location. Al-Qadi
al-Fadil describes it as follows:
" From this side of the city, where he [Salah al-Din j had encamped, he saw a deep valley,
a precipice rugged and profound, with a wall which encircled the city like a bracelet, and
towers which represented the larger pearls of the necklace worn by that place of
This location was extremely difficult for Salah al-Din's army, or any other, to attack, for
it enclosed two towers. The first was David's Tower (al-Qal'a), which was impregnable, and
the second was Tancred's Tower. According to a twelfth-century Latin pilgrim, David's
Tower contained two hundred steps leading to the summit and formed the main defence
of the city. It was very heavily guarded in times of both peace and war. During the
confrontation with Salah al-Din most of the Latin fighters were stationed in David's Tower.
This same citadel had been attacked by Raymond of Toulouse, ninety years before Salah
al-Din, and had been taken from its defenders only after they had surrendered.
This part of the western wall gave the Latins other advantages as well. According to
Ernoul, they had the sun to their backs, while Salah al-Din's forces were facing it. This fact
determined to some extent the pattern of battle, for the Latins attacked the forces of Salah
al-Din in the morning, trying to push them away from the walls, while Salah al-Din's forces
attacked the Latins in the afternoon and continued the fight until nightfall.
The Latins had the upper hand at first. Writing of some of the battles between the two
sides, 'Imad al-Din hints at the courage of the enemy:
"They challenged [us I to combat and barred the pass. They came down into the lists like
enernies. They slaughtered and drew blood. They blazed with fury and defended the city
.... They drove us back and defended themselves. They became inflamed and caused us
harm, groaned, incited, and called for help in a foreign tongue.... They clustered together
and obstinately stood their ground. They made themselves a target for arrows and called
on death to stand by them. They said: "Each one of us is worth 20, and every ten is worth
200! We shall bring about the end of the world in defence of the church of resurrection."
So the battle continued, as well as slaughter with spear and sword."
Ernoul provides additional details of the battle at the western wall. He says that Salah
al-Din had at first warned the authorities in Jerusalem and asked them to surrender, but
they had rejected his request because they were very well armed and fortified. Salah
al-Din then ordered his troops to attack the city. They tried to reach the gates several times
but failed. The Latins, in turn, tried to make sorties but were repulsed.
As the fighting raged, Salah al-Din travelled around the city in an attempt to find a more
suitable location for his attack. After one week, according to Ernoul, or five days,
according to the Arab chroniclers -- he decided to reposition his forces. Abandoning their
old encampment between David's Gate and St. Stephen's Gate his troops camped in a
triangular area at the northeastern corner of the city, where, Ernoul tells us, they were
facing the area between the Postern of St. Mary Magdalen (Bab al-Sahira) and the Gate
of Jehoshafat (Bab al-Asbat). According to al-Qadi al-Fadil, this area was more accessible
and better suited to the movement of cavalry. Salah al-Din pitched his tent very close to
the city walls so that it could be reached easily by the weapons of the enemy.
The new location, on the Mount of Olives (Jabal al-Zaytun), was quite high, according to
Ernoul, so that from it Salah al-Din was able to watch the movement of the Latin forces
insidc the city walls, except in those streets that were covered. Furthermore, in this
location Salah al-Din's forces had their backs to the sun, while the Latins were facing its
In addition, a demographic factor made it more favourable to Salah al-Din. The northern
triangular section of the city, which extended between St. Stephen's Gate and the Gate of
Jehoshafat and which was known in medieval times as the Juiverie, enclosed the quarters
of the native Christians. Often referred to in medieval chronicles as 'Syrians," they formed
the most underprivileged community in Jerusalem under Latin rule and were despised by
their Latin neighbours. Medieval Latin pilgrims placed them at the bottom of the
demographic scale next to Muslims, or "Saracens."
The native Christians were more inclined towards Salah al-Din than towards the Latins.
For besides their hostile relations with the Latins and their linguistic and ethnic
identification with the Arabs of the area, they were also influenced by the Greek Orthodox
Church in Byzantium. Byzantium at this time was an ally of Salah al-Din. The Emperor
Isaac II Angelus had confirmed an agreement with Salah al-Din in A.D.1185, according to
which Salah al-Din offered to convert existing Latin churches in the Holy Land to the
Christian rite once they had been recovered.
Once in Jerusalem, Salah al-Din seems to have contacted the leaders of the native
Christian community through an Orthodox Christian scholar from Jerusalem, known as
Joseph Batit. Batit, as Runciman says, had even secured a promise from the leaders of
the community that they would open the gates of the city in the vicinity of Salah al-Din, but
this did not take place because the R Latins decided to surrender the city.
On Friday, 20 Rajab, A.H. 583/25 September, A.D. 1187, Salah al-Din set up his
mangonels and started his attack on the city. Ibn Shaddad gives a brief account of the
battle, stating only that Salah al-Din pressed his attack on the city in hand-to-hand combat
and through the use of archers, until a breach was made in the wall facing the Jehoshafat
Valley (Wadi Jahannam) in a northern villagc. Realizing the inevitability of their defeat, the
besieged Latins decided to ask for safe conduct and thus sent messengers to Salah al-Din
to ask for a settlement. An agreement was soon reached.
Ibn al-Athir's account of the battle is more detailed. According to him, on the night of 20
Rajab, A.H. 53/25 September, A.D. 1187 Salah al-Din installed his mangonels, and by
morning his machinery was functional. The Latins also installed their mangonels on the
wall and started to fire their catapults. Both sides fought bravely, each considering its
struggle to bc in defence of its faith. The Latin cavalry left the city daily to engage in
combat with Salah al-Din's forces, and both sustained casualties.
In one of these battles a Muslim commander, 'Izz al-Din 'Isa Ibn Malik, was martyred by
the Latins. His death so grieved the Muslims that they charged the Latins vehemently,
forcing them away from their positions and pushing them back into the walls of the city.
The Muslims crossed the moat and reached the wall. Sappers prepared to destroy it while
archers gave them cover, and mangonels continued bombarding the Latins to drive them
away from the wall so the sappers could complete their work. When the wall had been
breached, sappers filled it witll wood.
Realizing that they were on the verge of perishing, the Latin leaders met in council and
agreed to surrender Jerusalem to Salah al-Din and to ask him for safe conduct.
Accordingly, they sent a delegation of their leaders to speak with Salah al-Din, but he
turned them away, saying that he would treat them the way their anccstors had treated the
residents of Jerusalem in A.H. 492/A.D. 1099, by death and captivity. On the following day,
Balian Ibn Barzan (Balian of Ibelin) left Jerusalem to discuss the future of the city and its
population with Salah al-Din.
Al-Qadi al-Fadil gives us an account that differs slightly from that of Ibn al-Athir.
According to him, the authorities in Jerusalem first sent a message to Salah al-Din offering
to pay tribute for a limited period. This was only a delaying tactic until they could secure
external help, however, and Salah al-Din, perceiving their intentions, rejected the offer and
positioned his mangonels closer to the wal1.
According to al-Qadi al-Fadil, the fire from the mangonels destroyed thc tops of the
towers, "which were used to repel the attacks." When they collapsed, "the towers made
such a noise that even the deafest among the enemy must have heard it." The defenders
thus had to abandon their positions, giving the sappers a chance to accomplish their task.
When the wall fell, Balian Ibn Barzan, the leader of the besieged, left the city and told
Salah al-Din that Jerusalem should be taken by surrender rather than by force.
Before discussing the negotiations between Salah al-Din and Balian, we shall present the
viewpoint of the Latin chroniclers, which supplements the Arabic accounts.
Although Ernoul and the author of Libellus agree with the Arabic accounts, they give us
more details about the last stages of the war and the resulting negotiations. Ernoul says
that the battle at the northeastern corner of the city lasted one week. The author of Libellus
notes that Salah al-Din divided his forces, using 10,000 archers or more, "well armed down
to their heels," to shoot at the walls. At the same time, according to Ernoul, about 10,000
horsemen, armed with lances and bows, waited between St. Stephen's Gate and the Gate
of Jehoshafat to repulse any sortie by the Latin garrison, while the rest of his army was
deployed around the siege engines.
When Salah al-Din's forces breached the wall, the defenders tried to drive them "away
with stones and molten lead, as well as with arrows and spears," but they failed. They
attempted a sortie, but this too failed. Sappers in Salah al-Din's army succeeded in making
a breach, about thirty metres in length, in the wall which was sapped in two days. After
that, the defenders fled the walls: "In the whole city there was not found a man bold
enough to dare stand guard for a single night for a 100-bezant reward."
The author of Libellus states that he personally heard a proclamation by the patriarch and
others indicating that "if 50 strong men and daring servants were found who could guard
the corner that had been destroyed for that one night, they would be given all the arms
they wanted, but they were not to be found."
The breach in the wall was in the same spot from which the first Crusaders had entered
the city in 1099. When the wall fell, the great cross that had been installed there to
celebrate the capture of Jerusalem by the Latins in that year also fell.
The Surrender of Jerusalem
Ernoul informs us that, realizing they could not hold the city for very long, the authorities
in Jerusalem held an emergency meeting, attended by the Patriarch Heraclius and Balian
of Ibelin, at which they discussed their military options. The citizens' representatives and
the sergeants advanced a proposal for a massive attack on Salah al-Din's forces, thus
"dying honourably in defence of the city."
The patriarch rejected this proposal, however, arguing that if all the men died, the fate of
the women and children in the city would be left in the hands of the Muslim forces, who
would certainly convert them to Islam. He proposed instead that the city should be
surrendered, and he promised that after surrendering it, the Latins would seek help from
Europe. The authorities accordingly agreed, and hence dispatched Balian to discuss the
terms of the surrender with Salah al-Din. According to Ernoul, Balian left the city to
negotiate with Salah al-Din, and, while the talks were in progress, the Muslim forces
succeeded in raising their flag on the main wall. Rejoicing, Salah al-Din turned to Balian
and asked: "Why are you proposing to surrender the city? We have already captured it!"
However, the Latins counter-attacked Salah al-Din's forces, driving them away from the
section they had captured. Salah al-Din was so angered by this that he dismissed Balian
and told him to return the following day.
When Balian returned to the city without an agreement, fear gripped the population.
According to Ernoul, the citizens "crowded in the churches to pray and confess their sins,
[they] beat themselves with stones and scourges, begging for God's mercy." The Latin
women in the city placed tubs in front of Mount Calvary and filled them with cold water,
then took their young daughters, stripped them naked, and placed them in the water up to
their necks. They cut their hair and burned it in the hope of averting their shame.
Meanwhile, the clergy walked in procession around the walls of the city chanting psalms
and carrying the Syrian "true cross," which had been kept in the city after the "true cross"
of the Latins had fallen into the hands of Salah al-Din's forces at the battle of Hittin. Ernoul
reports that the entire population took part in the procession, except for the very old men,
who locked themselves inside their homes.
When Balian appeared again before Salah al-Din, he asked for a general amnesty in
return for the surrender of the city, but Salah al-Din rejected his request. Balian then
threatened that the Latins inside the city would fight to the death: They would burn their
houses, destroy the Dome of the Rock, uproot the Rock, and kill all Muslim prisoners, who
were estimated to number in the thousands; they would destroy their property and kill their
women and children. According to al-Qadi al-Fadil, Balian also "offered a tribute in an
amount that even the most covetous could not have hoped for."
Salah al-Din met with his commanders and told them that this was an excellent
opportunity to capture the city without further bloodshed. After lengthy negotiations, an
agreement was reached between Salah al-Din and the Latins according to which they were
granted safe conduct to leave the city, provided that each male paid a ransom of ten
dinars, each female paid five dinars, and each child was ransomed for two dinars. All those
who paid their ransom within forty days were allowed to leave the city, while those who
could not ransom themselves were to be enslaved.
'Imad al-Din indicates that Balian offered to pay 30,000 dinars on behalf of the poor, an
offer that was accepted, and the city was at last surrendered on Friday, 27 Rajab, A.H.
583/2 October, A.D. 1187. The twenty-seventh of Rajab was the anniversary of al-Mi'raj,
through which Jerusalem had become a part of Islamic history and piety . When Salah
al-Din entered Jerusalem triumphantly, he immediately released the Muslim prisoners,
who, according to Ibn Shaddad, numbered close to 3,ooo. The newly released captives
were later rewarded with the homes vacated by the Latins.
Meanwhile, the Latins started to prepare for their departure. They began to sell their
property and possessions at very low prices to the merchants in Salah al-Din's army, as
well as to native Christians. According to 'Imad al-Din, they stripped the ornaments from
their churches, carrying with them vases of gold and silver and silk- and
gold-embroidered curtains as well as church treasures. The Patriarch Heraclius collected
and carried away gold plating, gold and silver jewelry, and other arteacts from the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre.
In order to control the departing population, Salah al-Din ordered that all the gates of
Jerusalem be temporarily closed. At each gate a commander was appointed to control the
movement of the Latins and to ensure that only those who had paid ransom could leave.
Persons were employed inside the city to take a census. 'Imad al- Din says that Egyptian
and Syrian officers were appointed to collect the payments and to give the departing Latins
receipts that were to be submitted at the gate before leaving the city. Although this sounds
like good administration, at the time the Latins were being counted and were making their
departure, the city was in a state of chaos and there was much mismanagement of the
ransom money collected. The grand masters of the Templars and Hospitallers were
approached to donate money for the release of poor Latins, but when they resisted, a riot
almost erupted and they were forced to contribute to the ransom.
There were examples of magnanimity on the part of the Muslim victors, however. The
patriarch and Balian asked Salah al-Din to set some slaves free. Accordingly, he freed 700
slaves on behalf of the patriarch and 500 on behalf of Balian. Al-Malik al-'Adil, Salah
al-Din's brother, asked him to release 1,000 slaves on his behalf and was granted his
request. Furthermore, Salah al-Din sent his guard throughout the city to announce that all
old people who could not pay would be allowed to leave the city: These came forth from
the Postern of St. Lazar, and their departure lasted from the rising of the sun until night
fell." Salah al-Din also allowed many noble women of Jerusalem to leave without ransom.
Among them was Queen Sibyl, who left unhindered with all her entourage. Salah al-Din
even granted her safe conduct to visit her captive husband in Nablus. The widow of
Renaud of Chatillon was also released, as well as a Byzantine princess who had led a
monastic life in Jerusalem and who was allowed to leave with all her entourage without
paying a ransom. Some of Salah al-Din's commanders ransomed groups who they
claimed belonged to their iqta' For example, the ruler of al-Bira asked for the release of
500 Armenians, and Muzaffar al-Din Ibn 'Ali Kuchuk asked for the release of 1,000,
claiming that they had come from Edessa. Salah al-Din granted his request.
After the exodus of all those Latins who could leave, 15,000 individuals remained in the
city. According to Imad al-Din, 7,000 of them were men and 8,000 were women and
children. All were enslaved.
'Imad al-Din was amazed at the amount of treasure that had been carried away by the
departing Latins. He reports having told Salah al-Din that these treasures could be valued
at 200,000 dinars. He reminded him that his agreement with the Latins was for safe
conduct (arnan) for themselves and their own property, but not for that of the churches,
and he counselled that such treasures should not be left in Latin hands. But Salah al-Din
rejected his proposal:
"If we interpret the treaty [now] against their interest, they will accuse us of treachery,
although they are unaware of the real meaning of the treaty. Let us deal with them
according to the wording of the treaty so they may not accuse the believers of breaking the
covenant. Instead, they will talk of the favours that we have bestowed upon them."
Certainly Salah al-Din's magnanimity towards the Latins contrasts sharply with the
attitude of the victorious Crusaders in 1099.
Emoul, by now a Latin refugee, indicated that the ransomed refugees were assembled
in three groups. One was placed in the custody of the Templars and another in that of the
Hospitallers, while Balian and Patriarch Heraclius took charge of the third. Salah al-Din
assigned each group fifty of his officers to ensure their safe arrival in territories held by the
Christians. One chronicler gives Salah al-Din's officers credit for their humane treatment
of thc refugees, noting that these officers,
" who could not endure the suffenng of the refugees, ordered their squires to dismount
and set aged Christans upon their steeds. Some of them even carried Chnstian children
in their arms."
The refugees departed in three directions. One group went to Tyre, which was already
overcrowded. Accordingly, the authorities there allowed only fighting men to enter the
The second group, accompanied by those turned away from Tyre, went to Tripoli, though
not before they had suffered at the hands of other Latins. Near al-Batrun, a local baron
known as Raymond of Niphin robbed them of many of their possessions. When they
reached Tripoli, only the rich among them were allowed into the city. Ernoul states, in
apparent shock, that Count Raymond of Tripoli sent his troops to rob the burghers of the
possessions they had been allowed to take from Jerusalem. The remaining refugees
continued their journey to Antioch, where some of them settled, while others went on to
The third group headed for 'Asqalan and then to Alexandria. According to Emoul, they
were treated hospitably in Egypt and remained in Alexandria until March 1188, when they
were put on ships for Europe. The captains of Genoese, Pisan, and Venetian ships at first
resisted boarding 1,000 poor refugees, but they were later obliged by Alexandrian officials
to accept these destitutes in order to obtain sailing permits. Assurances were also secured
of good treatment of the refugees on the part of the Italians by means of the threat that
if they did not keep their promises, their fellow citizens would suffer in retaliation once they
had arrived in Egypt. "Thus did the Saracens show mercy to the fallen city," says
Lane-Pool. "One recalls the savage conquest by the first Crusaders in 1099, when Godfrey
and Tancred rode through the streets choked with the dead and dying."
If the taking of Jerusalem were the only fact known about Salah al-Din, it would be
sufficient to prove him the most chivalrous and great-hearted conqueror of his own, and
perhaps of any, age.
The Fate of the Native Christians
'Imad al-Din indicates that, after paying their
ransom, the native Christians requested Salah al-Din's permission to remain in their
quarters in safety. Salah al-Din granted their request, provided that they paid the poll tax
(jizya). Some members of the Armenian community also asked to stay in the city and were
allowed to do so, provided that they also paid the tax. Many of the poor from both groups
were exempted. Rich Christians bought much of the property of the departing Latins, as
has been mentioned above. Salah al-Din allowed them to pray freely in their churches, and
he handed over control of Christian affairs to the Byzantine patriarch.
'Imad al-Din notes that at first Salah al-Din ordered the closure of the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre. Its future was discussed, and some even advised that it should be demolished
in order to sever completely the attachment of the Christians to Jerusalem. However, a
majority of the Muslims rejected the idea. They argued that demolishing the church would
not help, for it would not prevent Christians from visiting it. According to 'Imad al-Din:
" Those who come to visit it come to worship at the location of the cross and the
sepulchre rather than at the building itself. Christians will never stop making pilgrimages
to this location, even if it has been totally uprooted."
Those who spoke in favour of preserving the Church of the Holy Sepulchre even
suggested that when the Caliph 'Umar conquered Jerusalem, he confirmed the right of
Christians to the church and gave no orders to demolish the building.
When the Byzantine emperor received the news of Salah al-Din's victory in Jerusalem,
he asked him to restore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Greek Orthodox
Christians, a request that Salah al-Din granted. The Latins, however, were not allowed into
Jerusalem for four years. In September 1192 the knights of the Third Crusade were
allowed into the city as pilgrims to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When Hubert,
Bishop of Salisbury, met with Salah al-Din, he was granted permission to have four Latin
monks in the church.
The Muslim Response to the Liberation of Jerusalem
Salah al-Din's recovery
of Jerusalem concluded a lengthy campaign of military activity and ideological preparation,
which had begun at a slow pace early in the twelfth century, and became a massive
liberation movement focusing on Jerusalem as its rallying symbol during the regimes of
Nur al-Din and Salah al-Din.
When the first Crusaders entered Syria in A.H. 49l/A.D. 1097, the first scholars to raise
their voices in condemnation of the passiveness of the Muslim rulers, and to warn of the
potentially disastrous consequences of the Crusade, were in Damascus. Among them was
'Ali Ibn Tahir al-Sulami (d. A.H. 5OIIAD 1106). Al-Sulami wrote one of the earliest treatises
on the jihad in response to the Crusade.
Al-Sulami defined the Crusade as an invasion by Western nations, which started with the
conquest of Sicily and parts of al-Andalus. These same nations, having encountered the
weakness of the Muslims in the West and heard reports about their disunity in the East,
marched against the East, while their ultimate goal was the conquest of Jerusalem. This
definition of the Crusades by al-Sulami appears to have escaped many modern historians,
who allege that the Muslims underestimated the nature and motives of the Crusade in the
Al-Sulami, who preached in Damascus until his death, interpreted the Crusade as a
divine warning to test the willingness of the Muslims to refrain from committing acts that
God forbade and to unde take the duty of jihad, which they had neglected. He warned his
contemporaries that if they did not act immediately, while the enemy was still weak and far
from his sources of supply, they would not be able to uproot him.
In his preaching al-Sulami provided his contemporaries with a new definition of jihad that,
although derived to a great extent from the Islamic theory of war, was aimed at the
confrontation with the Crusaders. According to him:
" The early jurists emphasized the offensive Jihad, or the Jihad against enemies in
countries that are nearby or remote. However, if an enemy attacks the Muslims, as this
enemy [the Crusaders] has done, then pursuing him in areas that he has conquered from
us [an allusion to those parts of Syria and Palestine then held by the Crusaders] is a just
war aimed at protecting lives, children, and families and at preserving those parts that are
still under our control."
Al-Sulami, who established the theoretical foundations of the Countercrusade, did not live
long enough to see the results of his teachings. However, he sowed the seeds of national
and religious renaissance, which passed from one generation of scholars to another.
These scholars, who included Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian, Baghdadi, Andalusian, and
even non-Arab Muslims - among whom the most outspoken was 'Imad al-Din al-lsfahani
- passed the torch of the liberation of Jerusalem and other occupied terrltories in Syria and
Palestine to Salah al-Din, who grew up and flourished in the same environment. The result
of the long ideological campaign was manifested in the popular response to Salah al-Din's
successes in Palestine, especially after the battle of Hittin. According to Ibn Shaddad,
"Knowing that Salah al-Din was marching on Jerusalem, people had flocked from Syria
and Egypt to join him in his battle,'' hoping thereby to earn a spiritual reward. Every famous
person from Egypt and Syria witnessed the liberation, so that when Salah al-Din entered
the city he was surrounded by scholars, jurists, sufis, and poets as well as by crowds of
civilians and members of the military.
The initial response to the recovery was euphoric: "People raised their voices in praise
of God, expressing their gratitude and devotion to Him for having granted them the
Salah al-Din celebrated this great historical moment by receiving the crowds who had
gone to congratulate him. He sat most humbly and graciously amongst the men of religion
'Imad al-Din, who witnessed this gathering, described it as follows:
"The sultan sat with his face gleaming with happiness. His seat looked as if it were
surrounded by the halo of the moon. Around him readers of the Qur'an were reading the
words of guidance and commenting; the poets were standing, reciting and seeking favours;
while the flags were being unfolded in order to be raised and the pens were being
sharpened in order to convey the good tidings. Eyes were filled with tears of joy while
hearts were humbled in devotion to God and in joy for the victory."
The initial euphoria of the victory was followed by a busy week during which Salah al-Din,
his relatives, and his entourage worked earnestly to restore al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome
of the Rock to their original Islamic character in preparation for the following Friday
congregation (4 Sha'ban, A.H. 583/9 October, A.D. 1187). This task was rather difficult
because they had to demolish many structures that the Latins had introduced into both
buildings as well as in the area between them, al-Haram al-Sharif. Ibn al-Athir and 'Imad
al-Din state that the Templars had built some residences to the west of al-Aqsa mosque,
which they had equipped with grain storage and latrines, and they had included a part of
al-Aqsa in their buildings. Salah al-Din had these structures cleared away and ordered
the niche (mihrab) of al-Aqsa purified.
In fact, it seems that the Latins had made more changes in this area of Jerusalem than
Ibn al-Athir and 'Imad al-Din indicate. One Latin pilgrim, Theoderich, who visited the Holy
Land around A.D. 1172, refers to al-Aqsa mosque as the Palace of Solomon (others refer
to it as the Temple of Solomon), as it was known to the Latins and to Europeans in
general. He says it was in the hands of the Templars,
" who dwell in it and in the other buildings connected with it, havng many magazines of
arms, clothing, and food in it. They have below them stables for horses built by King
Solomon himself in the days of old; adjoining the palace a wondrous and intricate building
resting on piers and containing an endless complication of arches and vaults, which
stables, we declare, according to our reckoning, could take in 10,000 horses with their
Another pilgrim, John of Wurzburg, who visited the Holy Land some time between A.D.
1160 and A.D. 1170, confirms Theoderich's account. However, he refers to the stables as
having the capacity to hold 2,000 horses or 1,500 camels. These stables were at the
southeast corner of the Haram area. John of Wurzburg also refers to the foundations of
a large new church, which was not yet finished.
All the columns that had been installed by the Latins were removed, according to 'Imad
al-Din, and the floors were carpeted with precious carpets instead of woven and straw
mats. A pulpit that had been prepared by Nur al-Din for the occasion was installed. Ibn
al-Athir described it as a unique piece of art that was made over a period of several years
by specialists in woodcraft in Aleppo. This pulpit was unfortunately burned soon after the
Israeli occupation of the city.
The Dome of the Rock also suffered from desecration by the Crusaders, who, according
to 'Imad al-Din, had built a church and an altar on top of the Rock and decorated both with
images and statues. They had also built residences there and erected a small dome on the
"footprint," which they ornamented with gold and marble.
'Imad al-Din and others do not give us a very clear picture of the changes that the
Crusaders had made in the Dome of the Rock. To get a clearer picture of the Dome at the
time of the Crusaders, and to see what changes Salah al-Din introduced, we have to look
again at the detailed account of the Latin pilgrim Theoderich, referred to earlier. The
Dome of the Rock was known to the Latins as the Temple of the Lord. All the Latins'
additions were removed and arrangements were made to replace some missing pieces
from the Dome of the Rock that had been taken by the early Crusaders and sold as relics
in European markets for very high prices.
The Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque were purified with large quantities of water
and rose water and perfumed with incense. Even Taqi al-Din 'Umar and other relatives of
Salah al-Din participated in the purification in the hope of gaining spiritual reward,
according to 'Imad al-Din.
When this was done, the first Friday prayer took place in al-Aqsa mosque on 4 Sha'ban,
A.H. 583/9 October, A.D. 1187. Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-Zaki addressed the first audience in
al-Aqsa eloquently, explaining the place of Jerusalem in Muslim history and piety. In so
doing, he echoed many of the ideas that had been preached throughout the twelfth century
by the scholars and jurists during the period of the city's loss to the Crusaders:
" Jerusalem is the residence of your father Abraham, the place of ascension of your
prophet, the burial ground of the messengers, and the place of the descent of revelations.
It is in the land where men will be resurrected and it is in the Holy Land, to which God has
referred in His clear book [the Qur'an] . It is the farthest place of worship, where the
prophet prayed, and the place to which God sent His servant and messenger and the word
which He caused to descend upon Mary and His spirit Jesus, whom He honoured with that
mission and ennobled with the gift of prophecy without removing him from the rank he held
as one of His creatures.
In his sermon he portrayed the victory of Salah al-Din in Jerusalem as a rejuvenation
of Muslim power. He compared Salah al-Din's forces to those that had fought the battles
of Badr, the wars of al- Ridda, the battles of al-Qadisiyya and al-Yarmuk, and the battle of
Khaybar, which entailed the expulsion of the Jews from the Arabian Peninsula. He
compared Salah al-Din's recovery of Jerusalem to 'Umar's conquest of the city. Thus, Ibn
al-Zaki and other contemporaries of Salah al-Din accorded him a place in Islamic history
similar to that of the greatest heroes who had shaped the history of Islam after the Prophet
Salah al-Din also introduced some structural changes in the city of Jerusalem. He
transformed the Oratory of David in David's Tower into a religious building and installed
in it an imam and a mu'addhin as well as caretakers. He also ordered the transformation
of the Church of St. Anne into a Shafi'ite school and a ribat for the sufis, and he
transformed the residence of the patriarch of Jerusalem, in the vicinity of the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre, into a ribat.
In A.H. 587/A.D. 1191 Salah al-Din planned to fortify Jerusalem. Thus, according to 'Imad
al-Din, he decided to dig a new and deeper moat and to build a new wall, for which task
he brought approximately 2,000 Latin captives. He also restored the towers between St.
Stephen's Gate (Bab al-'Amud) and David's Tower (al-Qal'a). Salah al-Din personally
supervised, and sometimes participated in, the fortification of the city.
Salah al-Din's liberation of Jerusalem was hailed in all parts of the Arab and Muslim
world, except at the court of the Caliph al-Nasir li-Din Allah, who unfortunately overlooked
the magnitude of the victory and, instead, criticized some insignificant points. Thus,
instead of congratulating Salah al-Din for an achievement that he permanently bore in his
name (Al-Nasir), the caliph wrote rebuking him for the use of the title al-Malik al-Nasir,
which was that of the Caliph himself. Naturally, Salah al-Din refused to abandon a title that
he had earned in A.H. 567/A.D. 1172, long before the Caliph al-Nasir had come to power.
'Imad al-Din, reporting a dialogue he had had with Salah al-Din on this question, quotes
him as having said, with some bitterness:
"Did I not recover al-Bayt al-Muqaddas [Jerusalem] and unite it with al-Bayt al-Haram
[al-Ka'ba, a reference to Mecca in general] ? Indeed, I have returned to the native land a
part that had been missing from it."
Salah al-Din's liberation of Jerusalem was portrayed by his contemporaries as a miracle.
It was likened to lightning (barq) in its swiftness, and hence it earned the title Al-Barq
al-Shami in 'Imad al- Din's biography of Salah al-Din. Even the pro-Zangid historian Ibn
al-Athir could not but credit Salah al-Din with this great achievement: "This noble deed of
liberating Jerusalem was achieved by none after 'Umar Ibn al-Khattab except for Salah
al-Din, and this deed suffices for his glory and honour.''
Appendix 1 Theoderich's Description of the Holy Places (A.D . 1 172) "The Palace
of Solomon" [Al-Aqsa mosque
" Next comes, on the south, the palace of Solomon, which is oblong, and supported by
columns within like a church, and at the end is round like a sanctuary and covered by a
great round dome, so that, as I have said, it resembles a church. This building, with all its
appurtenances, has passed into the hands of the Knights Templars, who dwell in it and in
the other buildings connected with it, having many magazines of arms, clothing, and food
in it, and are ever on the watch to guard and protect the country. They have below them
stables for horses built by King Solomon himself in the days of old, adjoining the palace,
a wondrous and intricate building resting on piers and containing an endless complication
of arches and vaults, which stable, we declare, according to our reckoning, could take in
ten thousand horses with their grooms. No man could send an arrow from one end of their
building to the other, either lengthways or crossways, at one shot with a Balearic bow.
Above it abounds with rooms, solar chambers, and buildings suitable for all manner of
uses. Those who walk upon the roof of it find an abundance of gardens, courtyards,
ante-chambers, vestibules, and rain-water cisterns; while down below it contains a
wonderful number of baths, storehouses, granaries, and magazines for the storage of
wood and other needful provisions. On another side of the palace, that is to say, on the
western side, the Templars have erected a new building. I could give the measurements
of its height, length, and breadth of its cellars, refectories, staircases, and roof, rising with
a high pitch, unlike the flat roofs of that country; but even if I did so, my hearers would
hardly be able to believe me. They have built a new cloister there in addition to the old one
which they had in another part of the building. Moreover, they are laying the foundations
of a new church of wonderful size and workmanship in this place, by the side of the great
court. Theoderich's Description ol the Holy Places, trans. Aubrey Stewart (London:
Palcstine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1896): 30-32.
Appendix 2 Theoderich's Description of the Holy Places (A.D. I 172) "The Temple
of Ihe Lord": "Dome of the Rock"
Hence by a street which bends a little towards the south one comes through the Beautiful
Gate of the Temple to the Temple of the Lord, crossing about the middle of the city; where
one mounts from the lower court to the upper one by twenty-two steps, and from the upper
court one enters the Temple. In front of these same steps in the lower court there are
twenty-five steps or more, leading down into a great pool, from which it is said there is a
subterranean connection with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, through which the holy
fire which is miraculously lighted in that church on Easter Even is said to be brought
underground to the Temple of the Lord. Now, the outer court is twice as large, or more,
than the inner court, which, like the outer one, is paved with broad and large stones. Two
sides of the outer court exist to this day; the other two have been taken for the use of the
canons, and the Templars, who have built houses and planted gardens on them. On the
western side one ascends to the upper court by two ranges of steps, and in like manner
on the southern side. Over the steps, before which we said that the pool is situated, there
stand four columns with arches above them, and there, too, is the sepulchre of some rich
man, surrounded by an iron grille, and beautifully carved in alabaster. On the right, also,
above the steps on the south side, there stand in like manner four columns, and on the left
three. On the eastern side also there are fifteen double steps, by which one mounts up to
the Temple through the Golden Gate, according to the number of which the Psalmist
composed fifteen psalms, and above these also stand columns. Besides this, on the south
side above the two angles of the inner court, stand two small dwellings, whereof that
towards the west is said to have been the school of the Blessed Virgin. Now, between the
Temple and the two sides of the outer court - that is to say, the eastern and the southern
sides - there stands a great stone like an altar, which, according to some traditions, is the
mouth of some pools of water which exist there; but, according to the belief of others, point
out the place where Zacharias, the son of Barachias, was slain. On the northern side are
the cloister and conventual buildings of the clergy. Round about the Temple itself there
are great pools of water under the pavement. Between the Golden Gate and the fifteen
steps there stands an ancient and ruined cistern, wherein in old times victimes were
washed before they were offered.
The Temple itself is evidently of an octagonal shape in its lower part. Its lower part is
ornamented as far as the middle with most glorious marbles, and from the middle up to the
topmost border, on which the roof rests, is most beauteously adorned with mosaic work.
Now, this border, which reaches round the entire circuit of the Temple, contains the
following inscription, which, starting from the front, or west door, must be read according
to the way of the sun as follows: On the front, "Peace be unto this house for ever, from the
Father Eternal." On the second side, "The Temple of the Lord is holy; God careth for it;
God halloweth it." On the third side, "This is the house of the Lord, firmly built." On the
fourth side, "In the house of the Lord all men shall tell of His glory." On the fifth, "Blessed
be the glory of the Lord out of His holy place." On the sixth, "Blessed are they which dwell
in Thy house, O Lord." On the seventh, "Of a truth the Lord is in His holy place, and I knew
it not." On the eighth, "The house of the Lord is well built upon a firm rock." Besides this,
on the eastern side over against the Church of St. James (now called Qubbat al-Silsilah)
there is a column represented in the wall in mosaic work, above which is the inscription,
"The Roman Column." The upper wall forms a narrower circle, resting on arches within the
building, and supports a leaden roof, which has on its summit a great ball with a gilded
cross above it. Four doors lead into and out of the building, each door looking to one of
the four quarters of the world. The church rests upon eight square piers and sixteen
columns, and its walls and ceilings are magnificently adorned with mosaics. The circuit of
the choir contains four main pillars, or piers, and eight columns, which support the inner
wall, with its own lofty vaulted roof. Above the arches of the choir a scroll extends all round
the building, bearing this text: "'My house shall be called the house of prayer,' saith the
Lord. In it whosoever asks, receives. and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks shall
be opened. Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find." In an upper circular scroll
similarly placed round the building is the text: "Have Thou respect unto the prayer of Thy
servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, that Thine eyes may be open and Thine
ears turned towards this house night and day. Look down, O Lord, from Thy sanctuary and
from the highest heaven, Thy dwelling-place."
At the entrance to the choir there is an altar dedicated to St. Nicholas, enclosed in an iron
enclosure, which has on its upper part a border containing this inscription: in front, "In the
year 1101, in the fourth indiction, Epact 11," and on the left side, "From the taking of
Antioch 63 years, from the taking of Jerusalem 53." On the right side, "From the taking of
Tripoli 52 years, from the taking of Berytus 51 years, from the taking of Ascalon 11 years."